Western journalists taking a stand against their media outlets’ biased coverage of the Israeli war on Gaza are being targeted with career threats and even dismissal. But their colleagues in Palestine are suffering a worse fate.
Israeli forces explicitly warned newsrooms in Gaza they “cannot guarantee” the safety of their employees from airstrikes. Taken with a decades-long pattern of lethally targeting journalists, Israel’s actions show wide scale lethal suppression of speech.
Israel has blocked foreign press entry, heavily restricted telecommunications and bombed press offices. Some 50 media headquarters in Gaza have been hit in the past month.
Reporting Israel’s war on Gaza has become the greatest credibility challenge for journalists and media of our times.
The latest assassination of an Al Jazeera photojournalist while documenting atrocities has prompted an appeal to global journalists to “take a stand” to protect the profession.
Targeting the journalists, by murdering their families
The killing of Hamza Dahdoud, the 27-year-old eldest son of Al Jazeera Gaza bureau chief Wael Dahdouh, along with freelancer Mustafa Thuraya, has taken the death toll of Palestinian journalists to 113 (according to Al Jazeera sources, while others report slightly lower figures).
Wael Dahdouh, 52, lost his wife, daughter, grandson and 15-year-old son on October 25 in an earlier Israeli air raid that hit the house in Gaza city, they were sheltering in. He received the news of their deaths while on-air presenting a ‘live’ news report.
“It’s a difficult moment in the life of a Palestinian journalist, when they go to cover an incident for the news and find out that the news is their own family.”
After mourning for several hours, Dahdouh senior was back on the job supporting his colleagues and documenting the war.
On January 7, Wael’s son Hamza and his colleague were targeted by Israel as they drove out to prepare another news report, killed in the line of work.
Al Jazeera called on the international community to hold Israel accountable for these deaths, and “demand an end to the targeting and killing of journalists”.
Just under 20 months ago, Al Jazeera’s best known correspondent, Shireen Abu Akleh, was fatally shot by an Israeli sniper while reporting on the Occupied West Bank on 11 May 2022 in what Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned by saying this “systematic Israeli impunity is outrageous.”
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) protested about the killing of Hamza Dahdoud and Thuraya, saying it “must be independently investigated, and those behind their deaths must be held accountable”.
But few journalists would accept that this is anything other than a targeted killing, as most of the deaths of Palestinian journalists in the latest Gaza war have been – a war on Palestinian journalism in an attempt to suppress the truth.
Intimidating, disappearing, silencing
Israel has arrested a total of 38 Palestinian journalists since the start of its war with Hamas on October 7 and is currently holding 31 — most of them without charge, reports Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
“At least 31 Palestinian reporters are currently held in Israeli prisons in connection with their journalism,” said Jonathan Dagher, head of RSF’s Middle East desk.
“This intimidation, this terror, these endless attempts to silence Palestinian journalism, whether by chains, bullets or bombs, must stop. We call for the immediate release of all detained journalists and for their urgent protection.”
All of the detained journalists work for Palestinian media outlets such as J-Media, Maan News Agency, Sanad, and Radio al-Karama or are freelancers serving multiple outlets.
They include Said Kilani, a 39 year old photojournalist who freelances for Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and other international media, who was one of the few reporters to remain in northern Gaza.
Kilani told RSF that on December 13, he was covering the fighting as Israeli forces advanced on Kamal Adwan Hospital when he found himself being arrested along with a medical team.
“As I knew that journalists were being targeted by the Israeli army, I was afraid and I initially hid my helmet and my press vest.”
After being released, he found his wife and children had also been arrested and then released. While they had been held, their house had been set on fire, and his laptop and cameras and other journalistic equipment that Kilani had hidden had also been destroyed.
“The Israeli soldiers took everything from us,” he told RSF. “We are homeless, in the cold, with nowhere to go.”
Five days after his arrest, Kilani was with his 16-year-old son Sajid in the street when the boy was shot in the neck by an Israeli sniper and died before his very eyes.
More than 100 journalists killed breaks the record
Al Jazeera’s senior political affairs analyst, the highly respected Marwan Bishara, a Palestinian-Israeli who was born in Nazareth in Israel, has no doubts.
“Nowhere is safe in Gaza and no journalists are safe . . . That tells us something.“
“It is understood they are war journalists. But still the fact that more than 100 journalists were killed within three months is breaking yet another record in terms of killing children, and destruction of hospitals and schools, and the killing of United Nations staff.
“And now with 109 journalists killed this definitely requires a certain stand on the part of our colleagues around the world. Not just in a higher up institution.
“I am talking about journalists around the world – those who came to cover the World Cup in Doha for labour rights… Those who are shedding tears in the Ukraine, those who are trying to cover Xinjiang in China, those who are claiming there are genocides happening right, left and centre – from China to Ukraine, to elsewhere.
“The same journalists who see in plain sight what is happening in Gaza should – regardless if we disagree on Israel’s motives, or Israel’s objectives in this war – must agree that the protection of journalists and their families is indispensable for our profession. And for their profession,” Bishara said.
“Journalists, and journalism associations and syndicates around the world – especially in those countries with influence on Israel, as in Europe, or the United States; journalists need to take a stand on what is going on in Gaza.
“They’re going to be from various media outlets deploying journalists in war-stricken areas. They will have to call for the defence of journalists and their lives and their protection.
“This cannot go on like this unabated in Gaza,” Bishara added, as Israeli defence officials have warned the fighting could go on for another year.
Journalists globally calling for media impartiality
The call for a stand by has been heard amongst many journalists in the West.
They are now challenging ‘media bias’, opening divisions among media groups about fairness and balance that have become the most bitter since the climate change and covid pandemic debates when media ‘deniers’ and ‘bothsideism’ threatened to undermine the science.
In November, more than 1500 journalists from scores of US media organisations signed an open letter calling for integrity in Western media’s coverage of “Israeli atrocities against Palestinians”.
In the United Kingdom, eight BBC journalists wrote an open letter in late November to Al Jazeera accusing the British broadcaster of bias in its coverage of Gaza.
A 2300-word letter claimed that the BBC had a “double standard” and was failing to tell the Israel-Palestine conflict accurately, “investing greater effort in humanising Israeli victims compared with Palestinians, and omitting key historical context in coverage”.
In Australia on November 24, another open letter by scores of journalists and the national media union MEAA called for “integrity, transparency and rigour” in the coverage of the war and joined the growing international calls condemning the Israeli attacks on journalists and journalism.
“We – journalists from across the Australian media landscape – call on Australian newsrooms to … adhere to truth over ‘both-sidesism’ [and] apply as much professional scepticism when prioritising or relying on uncorroborated Israeli government and military sources to shape coverage as is applied to Hamas.”
“We call for … Australian newsroom leaders to be as clear-eyed in their coverage of atrocities committed by Israel as they are of those committed by Hamas.”
“We also call for an end to violence against civilians in Gaza, the West Bank, Israel and Lebanon; the perpetrators of crimes against journalists and civilians be held to account; and Australian newsroom leaders to be as clear-eyed in their coverage of atrocities committed by Israel as they are of those committed by Hamas.”
Leading Australian media editors of The Sydney Morning Herald , The Age, The Guardian, SBS TV, ABC TV, and the Nine network have all hit back by threatening staff who had signed the letter.
A veteran The Age staff journalist, Miki Perkins, has resigned and readers were reportedly cancelling their newspaper subscriptions over the management ban.
At the ABC, at least one prominent Canberra journalist, Nour Haydar, has resigned over the censorship, while another, Antoinette Lattouf, has been taken off air following secret complaints to ABC management from the Israel lobby.
Independent Crikey later exposed the many editors and journalists who have made junket trips to Israel and is currently keeping an inventory of these “influenced” media people — at least 77 have been named so far.
In New Zealand, The Daily Blog editor Martyn Bradbury has also questioned how many New Zealand journalists have also been influenced by Israeli media massaging, and has written to the NZ Press Gallery, the media union, and media companies requesting a list of their names.
‘Blatant biases’ in Australian media
I have just returned from a two-month trip in the Mediterranean, Red Sea and Australia.
There I consumed a steady diet of comprehensive and well backgrounded reporting from global news channels such as TRT World News and Al Jazeera (which contrasted sharply in quality, depth and fairness with stereotypical Western coverage such as from BBC and CNN).
I was stunned on my return by the blatant biases of much of the Australian news media, particularly News Corp titles such as The Australian and The Advertiser in Adelaide.
This Adelaide Advertiser (News Corp) article is a single-source story — Israeli Defence force, of course — about a Hamas tunnel described as a “highway to hell”, complete with a photo of smiling IDF soldiers.
No mention by The Advertiser, let alone a photo, for the previous two days of the massive pro-Palestine rally calling for a ceasefire at the South Australia State Parliament in Adelaide.
A pointed indictment of much of the Western reporting can be read in publications such as the Middle East Eye.
Exposing much of the Israeli propaganda and fabricated claims since October 7, award-winning columnist Peter Osborne wrote: “I am haunted by one other consideration.
“It is not just that Western commentators, columnists and chat show hosts often don’t know what they are talking about. It’s not even that they pretend they do.
“It’s the comfort of their lives. They sit in warm, pleasant studios where they earn six-figure sums for their opinions. They take no risks and convey no truths.”
A polar opposite from the Gaza carnage and the risks that courageous Palestinian journalists face daily to bear witness. They are an inspiration to the rest of us.
This article is an edited version of a piece first appearing in David Robie’s Cafe Pacific, with additional material contributed by Peter Cronau.
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